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general good. ---How amazing is that wisdom, which comprehends such infinite diversities and contrarieties within its scheme! How powerful that hand, which bends to its own purpose the good and the bad, the busy and the idle, the friends and the foes of truth which obliges them all to hold on their
to his glory, though divided from another by a multiplicity of pursuits, and differing often from themselves; and while they all move at their own freedom, yet, by a secret influence, winds and turns them at his will! O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! *
In the third place, We see, from what has been said, how much reason there is for submission to the decrees of Heaven. Whatever distresses we suffer from the wrath of man, we have ground to believe that they befal not in vain. In the midst of human violence or oppression, we are not left to be the sport of fortune. Higher counsels are concerned. Wise and good designs are going on. God is always carrying forward his own purposes ; and if these terminate in his glory, which is ever the same with the felicity of the righteous, is not this a sufficient reason for our calm and cheerful acquiescence ?
Hence also, to conclude, arises the most powerful argument for studying with zealous assiduity to gain the favour and protection of the Almighty. If his displeasure hang over our heads, all things
Rom. xi. 33.
around us may be just objects of terrour. Tor, against him there is no defence. The most violent powers in nature are ministers to him. Formidable, indeed, may prove the wrath of man, if he be pleased to let it forth against us. To him, but not to us, it belongs to restrain it at pleasure. Whereas, when we are placed under his protection, all human wrath is divested of its terrours. If He be for us, who, or what, can be against us? Let us pursue the measures which he hath appointed for obtaining his grace, by faithi, repentance, and a holy life, and we shall have no reason to be afraid of evil tidings; our hearts will be fixed, trusting in the Lord. When the religious fear of God possesses the heart, it expels the ignoble fear of man, and becomes the principle of courage and magnanimity. The Lord is a buckler and a shield to them that serve him. IVhen he ariseth, his enemies shall be scattered as smoke is driven away, and as chaff before the wind. He giveth strength and victory to his people; he clotheth them with salvation. The wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath shall he restrain.
On the IMPORTANCE of RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE to
[Preached before the Society in Scotland for propagating
Isaiah, xi. 9.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy moun
tain ; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
THIS passage of Scripture is understood, by all
Christian interpreters, to refer to the days of the Gospel. The prophet describes in the context the auspicious influence of the Messiah's reign, as extending over all nature, and producing universal felicity. The full accomplishment of this prediction is yet future, and respects some more advanced period of the kingdom of God, when true religion shall universally prevail, and the native tendency of the Gospel attain its entire effect. In the prospect of this event the prophet seems to rise above himself, and celebrates that happy age in the most sublime strain of Eastern poetry. He opens a beautiful view of the state of the world, as a state of returning innocence. He represents all nature fourishing in peace; discord and guile abolished;
the most hostile natures reconciled, and the most savage reformed and tamed. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The lion shall eat straw like the ox ; and the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain ; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Upon reading these words we must immediately perceive the great encouragement which they give to all good designs for promoting religion in the world. When we engage in these, we have the comfort of being engaged, not only in a good cause, but also in one that shall undoubtedly be successful. For we are here assured by the Divine promise, that truth and righteousness shall at length prevail, and that the increasing influence of religion shall introduce general happiness. It is a pleasing and animating reflection, that, in carrying on such designs, we act upon the Divine plan; and co-operate with God for advancing the kingdom of the Messiah. We have no reason to be discouraged by any unfavourable circumstances which at present oppose our pious endeavours. Though the ignorance, superstition, and corruption, which now fill so great a part of the world, have a dark and mysterious aspect, it is not beyond the power of that Supreme Being, who brings light out of darkness, to clear up those perplexing appearances, and gradually to extricate mankind from the labyrinth of ignorance and errour. Let us consider how improbable it seemed, when the Gospel was first published, that it should extend so far, and overthrow so much established superstition, as it has already done. There is nothing in the present state of the world to render it more unlikely that it shall one day be universally received, and prevail in its full influence.
At the rise of Christianity, the disproportion was, at least, as great, between the apparent human causes, and the effect which has actually been produced, as there is in our age, between the circumstances of religion in the world, and the effect which we farther expect. The Sun of Righteousness having already exerted its influence in breaking through the thickest darkness, we may justly hope, that it is powerful enough to dispel all remaining obscurity; and that it will ascend by degrees to that perfect day, when healing shall be under its wings, to all the nations. A little one shall become a thousand ; and a small one a strong nation. I the Lord will hasten it in its time.
Besides the prediction which the text contains of the future success of religion, it points out also a precise connection between the increase of religious knowledge, and the happiness of mankind. The knowledge of the Lord filling the earth is assigned as the cause why they shall not hurt nor destroy in all the holy mountain of God. To this I am now to lead your thoughts; as a subject both suited to the occasion of the present meeting, and proper to be illustrated in times, wherein total indifference to religious principles appears to gain ground. Whether Christianity shall be propagated farther or not, is treated as a matter of no great concern to mankind. The opinion
Isaiah, lx. 22.